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Indonesia Official: US Speaker Ryan Does Not Link Islam, Terrorism

  • Eva Mazrieva

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shake hands before their meeting at the State Department in Washington, May 4, 2017.

Indonesia's foreign minister expressed satisfaction after a meeting Thursday with the leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, saying that Speaker Paul Ryan had affirmed he does not see the Muslim faith as the source of Islamist radicalism.

"There is a strong message that Paul Ryan delivered at the meeting, that overcoming radicalism and terrorism is not [to be done] by positioning Islam as the enemy," Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told VOA's Indonesian service after the meeting. "This ideology can be adopted by anyone. There is no link between Islam and radicalism."

Speaking in the Indonesian language, the minister said the 15-minute Capitol Hill meeting had left her with the belief that the United States understands that Indonesia is a strong, pluralistic and democratic country, and that Islam, the predominant faith in Indonesia, is not an obstacle to positive relations with the United States.

She said the two agreed that Indonesia, with the world's largest Muslim population, could play a "very important" role in the fight against international terrorism, "especially through 'soft power,' because that's where our strength is."

FILE - President Donald Trump signs the initial executive order for a U.S. travel ban, Jan. 27, 2017, at the Pentagon.
FILE - President Donald Trump signs the initial executive order for a U.S. travel ban, Jan. 27, 2017, at the Pentagon.

Travel ban

Retno's remarks masked her reaction to the Trump administration's initial travel ban covering seven Muslim-majority nations. In January, she said, "We have deep regrets about the policy."

And, although Ryan stressed the need for Indonesia to use "soft power" to counter "radicalism and terrorism," Indonesia has faced an increase in religious intolerance since the end of Suharto's secular dictatorship in 1998. Salafism, which is much stricter than Indonesia's traditional practice of Islam, has been growing in part because of Saudi Arabian funding.

Retno said she and Ryan also discussed efforts to maintain and strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries, cooperation on trade and investment cooperation, and the long-running dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

The minister's two-day visit to Washington follows a visit to Jakarta last month by Vice President Mike Pence. In addition to her meeting with Ryan, Retno met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Talks with Pence and Thomas P. Bossert, President Donald Trump's presidential adviser on counterterrorism, were also on her agenda.

The meeting between Retno and Ryan came two weeks after Islam played an unprecedented role in the election of a new governor of Jakarta, Indonesia's largest city.

FILE - Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who was seeking re-election, votes at a polling station during the runoff election in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 19, 2017. With him were his wife, Veronica; and son, Nicholas.
FILE - Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who was seeking re-election, votes at a polling station during the runoff election in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 19, 2017. With him were his wife, Veronica; and son, Nicholas.

Ahok defeated

In last month's runoff, Anies Baswedan, a former minister of education and culture, beat Chinese-Christian Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, who became acting governor after his boss, Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, won the 2014 presidential election.

Ahok campaigned while being tried on a blasphemy charge, which originated in a campaign speech when he quoted the Quran. Islamist hard-liners seized upon a video clip, and the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI), once a fringe group, organized two enormous protests in Jakarta, where it called for Ahok to be jailed and even killed.

The verdict and sentencing are scheduled for Tuesday, amid growing popular support for Sharia, the Islamic legal code, which is what the Trump administration hints at in its attacks on "radical Islamic terrorism."

An October 2016 study found nearly 80 percent of Islamic education teachers in five of 34 Indonesian provinces supported implementing Sharia. In much of Indonesia, religion is taught in public and private schools.

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